Confidence & Mental Toughness

Article by Katarina Wiemeyer of Mirkat London

I have been doing a lot of reading about mental toughness and how to approach to training and competitions.

I have said it in posts before that my metal game used to be fairly weak and is an area I have had to do a lot of work on, which has included reading a lot of books.

When it comes to sports, mental toughness is a key component to success, this is especially true in Olympic weightlifting.

What Is Mental Toughness?

To quote the all knowing wikipedia:

"When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is one way to say it.

The term mental toughness was defined by Jones et al., 2002, p. 209 as:

“Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:

Generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on the performer.

Specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure”

The Key Attributes

They also investigated and defined the key attributes which are essential to becoming mentally tough, these attributes are:

(a) having self-belief in one’s ability to achieve goals;
(b) being able to recover from set backs and having an extra determination to succeed;
(c) having a high amount of self belief that one has better abilities and more qualities than their opponents;
(d) having a high amount of motivation and desire to succeed;
(e) being fully-focused on the task even when there are distractions;
(f) having the ability to regain psychological control following uncontrollable events;
(g) having the ability to overcome emotional and physical pain;
(h) being able to accept and cope with the anxiety experienced in competition;
(i) thriving on pressure;
(j) having the ability to not be affected by good or bad performances;
(k) having the ability to remain fully focused even in the face of distraction;
(l) the ability to switch the focus on your sport on and off.

All of these attributes are all easily transferrable to Weightlifting.

Although mental toughness does come naturally to some people, the great thing is that if it doesn't come naturally to you, if you invest the time in it, it is something that you can teach yourself.

So as well as investing time in the gym working on your lifts, training and following the programme, invest time in believing in and having confidence in your abilities.

Dominant Thoughts

When you are training think about how you approach your lifts, be consistent, take note of the thoughts that are going through your head as these thoughts will show themselves in the outcome of your lift.

This is due to the law of dominant thought, which says that action follows “top of the mind” thought - basically we become what we think about.

For example; if you approach the bar thinking 'Don't miss this lift', the dominant thought in your head is missing the lift. So, you are setting yourself up to miss the lift.

Your mind remembers the most dominant thought, you can choose to make this a positive or negative one.

Your mind is most effective when you tell it what to do, rather than what not to think or do. Thinking tight back, chest over and finish the pull rather that don't miss this lift (or what ever your key cues are) will mean your dominant thought is about everything you need to do to put yourself in the best possible position to make, rather than miss, the lift.

Another example which is used a lot; "you approached it like it was heavy so it was". If you approach the bar thinking "it's heavy I'm probably going to miss this lift", chances are the barbell will feel heavy and then you'll more than likely miss the lift. Demonstrating the power of dominant thought again.

Whereas, if you approach the bar with confidence thinking; it's a light weight and visualising making the lift, recalling all the times you have successfully lifted the weight, finished the pull and caught the barbell in a solid landing, you put yourself in a much better position for making the lift.

Self Belief

Basically your thoughts become self fulfilling prophecies (causing something to happen by believing it will come true).

However with weight lifting I believe there is a very fine line in having confidence and believing in yourself, the work you put in and your abilities… Without stepping across the line into arrogance, because arrogance won't help you lift a barbell or to lift that goal weight you have your sights focused on.

Believing you can achieve – and having the confidence and mental toughness not to get in your own way - acknowledges that you have the potential and that you are putting in the work required to put yourself in the best possible place to achieve that goal.

Believing you should achieve something is different – I think this is where arrogance can creep in, as it comes with the expectation that you are going to do it, without taking into account the work you have put in it getting you there. If nothing else a heavy barbell is very good at putting you back in your place.

With weightlifting you have to believe that you can do something, that you can lift the weight on the barbell, but it can't be a random number, well above anything you have lifted before. Just because other people within your weight class are lifting those weights doesn’t automatically mean that you can. They have put in the time and work to be able to lift those weights, however, looking at you peers and aspiring to hit the same or similar numbers shows a lot more respect for what they have and are achieving.

This is where the work comes in, it's good to set yourself goals and to want to achieve a certain total, but you have to structure your training and programme around achieving that goal, alongside this you can work on achieving the attributes of mental toughness listed above to help you get there.

So remember “confidence is like a muscle, the more you train it the stronger it gets”

My Own Situation

Personally I have had to do a lot of work on the mental side of Weightlifting, believing in myself and that I can lift heavier weights or hit PBs. My PBs usually build up 1kg at a time as I build up confidence and believe I can lift something. Adding just 1kg means the simple internal conversation (its only 1 kilo that’s not a lot more than you just lifted… there shouldn’t be any reason you can’t lift this).

Article by Katarina Wiemeyer of Mirkat London.